Although it never became a major port, the city of Beaufort definitely depended on shipping to export goods produced locally, such as indigo. Ships needed a marker to find the entrance to the Beaufort River, so construction began on a lighthouse on the northeastern tip of Hunting Island. On July 1, 1859, the lamps of the lighthouse were first lit. The conical brick tower was built to a height of ninety-five feet with the upper twenty-five feet painted white, helping to make the tower more visible during the day. A second order Fresnel lens was installed into the lantern room, which helped to emit a white flash every thirty seconds and increased the distance the light could be seen at night.
It wasn’t long after construction was completed that officials realized that shoreline erosion would eventually threaten the lighthouse. Although the eroding shoreline was quickly getting closer, the lighthouse remained in operation until it was destroyed during the Civil War. Confederate troops destroyed the tower to prevent it from being used by the Union army in 1862. Shortly after the end of the war, plans were in place for a new light, but it wasn’t until 1875 that crews were able to complete the new lighthouse.
The new light, built to a height of 132 feet, was made of cast-iron interchangeable pieces that could be disassembled and moved should the need arise. Brick was then used to line the interior and a cast-iron stairway was installed. A second order Fresnel lens was installed in the lantern room, which enabled the light to be seen up to eighteen miles at sea. The lighthouse was also painted with a new daymark, which is the paint scheme that is seen today.
Hunting Island Lighthouse
To visit the Hunting Island Lighthouse, take Hwy 17 north from I-95. Then take Hwy. 21 east to Hunting Island. The lighthouse is located in Hunting Island State Park and visitors are allowed to climb to the top of the lighthouse. Admission to the park is $4 and in 2001, the fee was $.50 to climb the tower. There is a park ranger station with great exhibits of the lighthouse grounds, keeper's attire, and other information on the lighthouse and park. The drive to the lighthouse takes visitors through a true maritime forest and is a beautiful drive. Visitors can climb the 167 cast-iron stairs to the top for a grand view of the Island and the ocean.
The keeper's dwelling was built and run as a duplex. The head keeper and his family lived on one side, while the assistant keeper and his family lived on the other. The building burned in 1938. Bricks have been laid to outline the foundation.
Two cisterns were built to collect water to be used at the station. This is the only one that remains.
The oil house, located directly across from the entrance to the lighthouse, gave the light keepers a convient place to store the lamp oil away from the lighthouse to prevent fire.
Two out buildings were also built to be used as storage space for tools. A small room located at the back of the building was used for bathroom facilities for the lighthouse staff.
Since the light station was located on an island away from the main land, all supplies had to come by boat. Once on the island, goods and supplies would be transported to the light station by a tramcar by way of a rail track.
The entrance to the park is indicated by this sign.
By 1887, it was clear that the tower would have to be moved. The shoreline was within 150 feet of the tower and within sixty-feet of the keeper’s dwelling and outbuildings. The tower, keeper’s quarters, and outbuildings were moved further inland in 1889. Once in its new home, the light was put back in operation and served until it was decommissioned in 1933.
The island was later purchased by the state and converted into a park. The keeper’s quarters was used to house workers while they were working on a bridge to the island. It is rumored that a lantern was knocked over during a card game and started a fire that burned the keeper’s dwelling in 1938. In 2003, the lighthouse was closed due to some concerns about the stability of the stairway. After being closed for nearly a year and a half, the lighthouse was reopened on February 18, 2005.